Juliet Ashton is a writer whose witty columns were published in London throughout the war as a way of lifting everyone’s spirits during the worst of the bombing in World War II. Now that the war is over and England is trying to rebuild, Juliet is at a loss over what to write about next, now that her jaunty column feels outdated and unnecessary. This is when Juliet receives an unexpected letter from one Dawsey Adams, a man on the Island of Guernsey, a Channel Island that was occupied by the Germans during the war. Dawsey introduces Juliet to the literary society the islanders created to help get them through the darkest days of the occupation, which included no fuel for heat, no food or medicine, and no contact whatsoever with the outside world. Through their letters to and from Juliet, we meet all the islanders who participate in the society – and even some who don’t and are very critical of those who do – which makes for a thorough and vivid contrast. Their words reveal the hope, camaraderie, resilience in the face of adversity, that magical way in which books shape us, and the bond that readers often form when reading books together.
This book is a joy, not just due to its unusual format (composed as it is entirely of letters), but also in its scope. As you read the letters of these individuals (Juliet’s friends, a boyfriend, and other various individuals appear throughout), you feel like you know them instantly. There’s a special relationship that occurs over the exchange of letters, and Ms. Shaffer and Ms. Barrows capture it perfectly. My only complaint is there has to be an overbearing, pompous American ass who fills the role of quasi-villain. You can see it coming a mile away and I don’t think it really adds anything but cliché to this otherwise splendid tale.
Amazon link is here.